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Our View: Public needs government to follow through

Published: Friday, Feb. 15, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT

President Barack Obama always has been a master of words.

The State of the Union speech he delivered Tuesday night to Congress was no different.

He embodied the role of commander in chief. He demanded change that would make for a better life for the middle class. He asked lawmakers to help the poor by increasing the federal minimum wage to $9 from $7.25.

He passionately demanded Congress at least call to a vote proposed measures that aim to curb gun violence, noting that since the tragic shooting at Newtown, Conn., on Dec. 14, more than 1,000 birthdays, graduations, anniversaries have been stolen by a bullet from a gun. Those victims, and their loved ones, deserve a vote, he said.

There are many things that need to be accomplished in this country. We applaud Obama’s efforts to create more manufacturing and technology jobs, although we think government would do best to get out of the way by not taxing and spending businesses and workers to death, and let the free market do its thing.

And we agree access to health care can be improved. We should stop pumping pollution into the Earth. Our education system needs to be brought into the 21st Century. More kids should receive early childhood education. College needs to be more affordable.

But such initiatives and ideas for new programs should be relegated to the back burner until Congress gets its financial house in order.

In Illinois, there’s plenty to be done. But until pensions are fixed, there’s no money to do anything else.

Likewise, the country’s debt should be the No. 1 priority. It’s time for real tax reform, for spending priorities to be declared and cuts to be made. Until the annual trillion-dollar deficits are eliminated, the horizon always will be filled with the looming threat of severe austerity measures no one will want to experience.

And to clear away the clouds for a brighter future, lawmakers of all political stripes need to master the lost art of compromise, something we rarely see as legislating becomes more partisan with each passing year.

Obama seemed to recognize that. He opened his speech by evoking John F. Kennedy Jr., who 51 years ago declared to Congress that “the Constitution makes us not rivals for power but partners for progress.”

Americans, he said, don’t expect government to solve every problem, or for lawmakers to agree on every issue. “But they do expect us to put the nation’s interests before party,” he said. “They do expect us to forge reasonable compromise where we can. For they know that America moves forward only when we do so together, and that the responsibility of improving this union remains the task of us all.”

We don’t disagree with that. But saying it is a long way from doing it. It’s the follow-through that will matter.

Otherwise, it’s just words. And we’ve had enough of those.

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